Flat Tank bikes on the Irish Rally
In addition to the swell guys and gals and superb early bikes, the Irish always has a great selection of flat tank bikes (made up to around 1927). The roads chosen for the daily tours are well suited for these machines, with great winding one-laners mixed with a few 40-50mph routes that connect the twisty bits. A Norton Model 18 like this one with 500cc, OHV and Webb front forks is very capable of humbling riders on bikes made 20 or 30 years later. The lack of rear suspension isn’t much of a hindrance if the macadam surfaces haven’t crumbled, but the hand shifting of that Sturmey gearbox will delay things slightly when compared to a foot shifter. The power is adequate, especially when considering that the low weight of the machine without things like rear shocks, swingarm, battery, generator and speedometer. And it is hard to fault the appearance and styling of a 1920’s Norton.
One of the beverage stops was in this town square by Dan Murphy’s. James’ Rex Acme is parked in front of dad Bryan’s BSA V twin. The R-A is a factory racer and was used in anger at the Isle of Man TT. James uses it with slightly less anger on the roads, hence the oil coating some of the shiny things. He was curious about the action of the front forks and asked my opinion. As I sped off with him following closely behind we both hit a gigantic, but luckily rare, pothole. Both wheels came off the ground with several inches of daylight peeking through. But the bike stayed true upon its return to earth and the fork action and chassis alignment was not a concern for me during the rest of my test ride.
Regular readers will know my favorite roads are the ones less traveled. I have a theory that the narrower the road, the more fun there is to be had. Therefore I never ride on 4 lane roads, and try seek out old one lane cart paths. The route masters on the Irish choose some really good small ones. The road shown in Kim’s photo above goes up a valley, twisting and turning as it climbs in elevation, eventually crossing over the famous Healy Pass. With such a narrow bit of road, there are no lines painted on the sides, nor a line down the middle to divide the traffic. When oncoming cars approach, both cars dip their outside tires into the grassy ditch, giving just enough room for the other to pass without hitting the rearview mirrors.
This little BSA caught my eye all week. And not just from that wicker picnic basket. The dummy rim front and rear brakes and the hand pump for the oil are neat features. Good looking and capable.
Another flat tank BSA, this one has the neat oil regulator in the next photo. Adjust the needle valve and go. Look down and count the seconds between each little oil drip under the glass, but remember to look up and watch the road!
Back to visit Bunratty Castle and Durty Nelly’s Pub on our last night in Eire. They say it is the oldest pub, and I’m not going to argue with them.
Another pic of Jame’s dirty R-A. Shiny show bikes are nice to see, but isn’t this great?
Water scene on the side of the road. This was from the top of the small Coomhola Bridge on the Southern end of probably the best road that I’ve ever ridden. It starts at the R569 in Kilgarvan, near Macaura’s Grave, then up and over a summit from County Kerry to County Cork above Derreencollig, then down to Derrynafinchin to Coomhola.
Fear not dear reader, I know that those names may not make much sense, but here is a map. For reference, Priest’s Leap is in between the blue line and the yellow line, and summits along the same white dotted line that separates Cork and Kerry. We rode north to south, with great views and pavement on the way up the hill, but a bit too many potholes on the southern half coming down the hill. Still, I’d jump at the chance to do it again.
Our gracious host John Quirke provided us with two days to inspect his assortment of cutters and machine tools, and to gape at his wonder restorations. Including the hints and tips he gave regarding Brown and Barlow carburetors, and that portion of the holiday was as fun and rewarding as the rest of the trip.
Yet another old BSA. This one sports OHV atop some mighty long pushrods. The dummy rim brakes may have a little trouble with the sidecar load, but the bike made it back to Killarney without incidents.
Here is what that very same view looked like 104 years later. The old photo hangs on the wall in the restaurant above the Avoca wool shop, which is located just where the photographer stood all those years ago.
Throughout the week, we always find our way to to the top of Moll’s Gap. This small area is at the center of so many picturesque areas and wonderful roads. Down the hill towards Killarney is Ladies’ View, with the very best Irish Coffee. Back towards the south is the Ring of Kerry Road to Kenmare. And to the north are a series of little one lane roads that go through the Black Valley and up through the Gap of Dunloe, which is visible in both photos. Another one of my most favorite roads ever. Climbing the hill on my one speed Veloce was a sense of achievement that I hope never to forget.
Kim’s photo at the top of the Gap of Dunloe